Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Thoughts on the Eve of a New Year

glasses

Another year has passed. Of course, seasons and years are artificial constructs – they don’t truly exist, except in our minds. Still, they provide a way for us to divide the expanse of time into digestible chunks. At the end of this chunk we call 2015, I find myself reflecting back on a year of heartbreak and breakthrough.

The breakthrough began when I finally went to counseling. Yes. Me. I know I’ve ranted (for decades) about the voodoo that is psychology and huffed self-importantly as I denigrated the soft social ‘sciences’ (usually including the air quotes.) Dubious or not, I finally tired of repeating certain life patterns and found a competent counselor.

07atiyeh 48webOn my first visit, I did my best not to roll my eyes when she wanted to start with my childhood. Hello. I’m almost 60. How relevant could my childhood be? I’m WAY past blaming Mommy for my choices. Then I found myself blubbering like a baby as we discovered that my deep-seated abandonment complex came not from my husband’s suicide in 2002, not from my mother’s remarriage in 1961 (she spent two whole days alone with my step-dad before fetching me to share the rest of their honeymoon) but from my bio-dad’s abrupt departure when I was a toddler. It turns out, understanding origins really can help.

cherie bio pic 2016I learned that there isn’t a bad Cherie and a good Cherie. That the good Cherie isn’t the ‘real’ Cherie, but that I come as an entire package and until I learn to embrace my whole self, I can’t be happy. So I let bad Cherie out of the dungeon. I felt sorry for those around me, because bad Cherie – ahem, because I – can be snippy and abrupt, quick to let others know when they’ve tread on my toes, and impatient with rudeness and incompetence.

Imagine my surprise when a friend told me I’m actually easier to be around. “You’re more light-hearted,” he said. “You seem calmer, even in the midst of small crises.” He’s right. I do feel calmer. I’m glad to know my outside matches my inside.

My self-improvement crusade included losing fifteen pounds (ten to go), having a regular yoga practice, daily prayer/meditation, and regularly indulging hobbies, including playing my piano, guitars, and ukulele. I haven’t opened my clarinet case yet, and I’m sure my neighbors are grateful. I’m clearer on my life and on my goals. And at the very end of the year, I met someone. More on that (I hope) in posts to come.

My heartbreak is for our nation. Police treatment of people of color in our country has been beyond shameful – it looks a lot like deliberate genocide. The response of our court system to the police murders is even more horrifying. It appears they’ve totally misinterpreted the statement, “Justice is blind.”

grandkidsI fear for my grandchildren, who could be shot dead on a playground for playing with toys that white children may use with impunity. I fear for my son-in-law – a teacher, a tri-athlete – who runs daily. My daughter said she worries every time he goes out. She should. Apparently, no judge would prosecute the police officer who killed him for the crime of jogging while black, which means it’s open season on people of color.

grandma and gidu scanThe Syrian refugee crisis hits just as close to home, because my grandparents emigrated from Syria in the early years of last century. The rhetoric of some in our country toward the refugees scares me. Their concerns have nothing to do with national security, it’s merely an excuse to hate and to attack anyone who looks different from the white ‘norm’. I am outraged at those who dare use the name Christian while spouting such ignorance and hatred. I am frustrated because I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t know what to do about ANY of it. The injustice. The bigotry. The deliberate choice to hate. What I do know is that I cannot respond with hatred. In the midst of it all, I am called to love. To embrace those who are hurting. To embrace those who do the hurting. To embrace myself. All of myself – the hurting and the hurter, because I am both. Our country is both. Hating will not lead to healing. We can only love ourselves into wholeness.

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Truth or Vegan

veganClients came in a couple of weeks ago. They are about ten years older than me. They are lean, fit, healthy. They espoused the joys of vegan eating. “We started a few months ago. We lost weight hand over fist,” they reported.

That caught my attention. Even though I know vegan eating doesn’t make me feel as healthy as a diet that includes small amounts of lean meat and dairy (I’ve tried it before)…well, losing weight, right?

So I researched (like I do) and got a bevy of delicious recipes. Spent four hours cooking, so I’d have a refrigerator full of wonderful options.

And I gained two pounds in the first week.

Because my issue isn’t about what I eat. The issue is my basic relationship with food. It’s my solace, my lolo-blankey. It’s my lover, my friend. It doesn’t matter WHAT I eat. As long as food is substituting for something else (everything else?) I’m not going to be healthy on the inside. No matter what happens on the outside.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I hate painful truths.

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It was a Good Year

By most measures, this was not a stellar year. In 2014, my marriage turned rocky, my brother had a stroke, I had a heart event, and now my mother has died.

Death, ill health and relationship struggles dominated, yet I feel fondly toward 2014. “Wasn’t that a nice year,” I find myself thinking. “I hope 2015 is as good.”

Really? From the outside, this doesn’t look like it was such a great year. Heck, I didn’t even lose weight. I’m still hovering at the 150 mark, which is about 15 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. How can I feel optimistic about THIS year?

The thing is, for all its sorrows, 2014 brought significant emotional growth. I am more content and peaceful than I’ve ever been, and it was the challenging events of this year that provided the jet fuel for my rapid progress. (That, and being in my fifties. Did you know that happiness increases dramatically beginning in this decade? I’ll talk about this in another post, but for all you youngsters – it turns out aging is something to look forward to on a LOT of levels.)

ertswed1313I’ve been pretty close-mouthed about my relationship woes. I’ll admit, it’s been a pride thing. I hate providing fodder for all the I-told-you-so’ers, who rolled their eyes when I married a much younger man, whispering behind their hands that it wouldn’t last. (Yes, your comments DID get back to me. Gossips gossip.)

Despite my best intentions, when B and I married, I drifted into some of the same old poor relationship habits. He did the same. As a result, in March we made an almost complete emotional break. We’ve moved to different homes. But over the ensuing months, we’ve discovered that this relationship – whatever it will be – is worth working on. Changing for. We’ve both been doing hard work on ourselves, to be the people we want to be in this and ANY relationship.

I don’t know what ‘we’ will look like when we’re finished. If there will be a ‘we’. But I’m not looking ahead, I’m doggedly focusing on now. Let the future take care of itself. I’ve wasted too many nows worrying about thens. This year, thanks to our relationship crisis, I finally learned to live in the present. Turns out, I am much happier concentrating only on NOW. I have so much more emotional energy for the present when I’m not angsting about the past and anxious about the future.

mikecorinnaIn June, my brother had a stroke. I immediately moved in with Mike & my sis-in-law Corinna, to help and (let’s be honest) to hover. When Michael came home from the hospital, it looked pretty grim. He depended heavily on a walker. He couldn’t hold objects in his left hand. His face drooped. When I left a month later, Mike was walking over a mile a day without assistance – no walker, no cane! His face was symmetrical. He’d lost significant weight, thanks to new, healthy eating habits. He was even recovered enough to do some photography work for me.

I didn’t participate in a tragedy, I witnessed a miracle. I watched Michael take charge of his life; make changes that were needed; show determination and optimism in the face of a terrifying physical event. We can ALWAYS make a new start. It’s never ‘too late’. Our dreams and our life lie ever before us.

Even more importantly, through this event, my brother and I reconnected. We’ve always loved one another, but we’d drifted off into our own busy lives, and hadn’t been close in decades. This brought us back together – Mike, Corinna and me. It rekindled our delight in one another. We rediscovered true family. Became a strong, cohesive team.

mom webWe needed all of that new-found closeness to work cooperatively in helping Mom, who was showing signs of mental decline. We worked together to move her from her house and into an independent living apartment. She went from a life of isolation into one of community. For the first time in years, Mom had regular interaction with others. A social life. Friends.

Then Mom died in a freak accident. How would we have endured if we hadn’t re-established strong ties? But we did, and it’s made ALL the difference. We text and call daily. “How are you doing?” we ask one another. “I love you. I need you. I just wanted you to know.” Our closeness holds us together through this grief. It is a blessing.

My heart event came as a result of years of maintaining ridiculous cortisol levels as I worked too hard, too long, took on more than any reasonable person could possibly manage – in other words, led the typical Amerian life. Then came a kicker event: in October, a job that I thought was going to provide tremendous income for me and for the family members and friends with whom I’d contracted, looked as though it were going to tank. All these people were depending upon me, I thought, and it looked like I was going to let them down.

BOOM. My heart called a time-out. I spent a month wondering if I would need to revise the almost four decades of life I envisioned yet spooled out before me. Would I have mere months or years? Would I have to let go the dreams of 500 mile walking pilgrimages? Of travel to foreign lands? Did I have a future at all?

The tests came back negative. My heart is strong. Chances of another event verge on zero. But I am not immortal, and I do NOT want to spend what hours, days, or decades remain focused on unfulfilling tasks.

So, since October, I’ve published my first book. I’ve started an art project that mixes Spirit and photography. I’ve moved to the helm, rather than the decks, of the exciting new venture that melds ministry and business. And I daily embrace my friends and my family. It’s a good life. It was a good year.

And next year, I’ll get those fifteen pounds off. No, really.

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Fermented Drinks and Spoiled Relationships

kombucha

Courtesy of Everyday Paleo. http://www.everydaypaleo.com

I promised I’d share recipes for kombucha and probiotic lemonade. They are both really easy!

I get great satisfaction from making my own healthy foods.  Hey, I get great satisfaction from making my own unhealthy foods. Truth is, I’ve had a love affair with my kitchen since age seventeen, when I moved into a tiny studio apartment in downtown Portland (on the third floor of a building, no elevator, with a shared bathroom down the hall.)

For the first time, I was free to explore the culinary arts. Growing up, my mother barely allowed me in the kitchen, except to clean. I certainly wasn’t allowed to cook. She was obsessed with the fear that I would ‘make a mess’. In fact, that was pretty much her focus for my entire childhood – that something (including me) might be dirty or disheveled.

Five years ago, I suddenly realized that my mom has obsessive-compulsive disorder. I mentioned it to my sister-in-law, who rolled her eyes and said, “Well, duh.” It wasn’t ‘duh’ to me. Until that ah-ha moment, it felt normal – just Mom being negative and unreasonable. My relationship with her has improved markedly since. I don’t take her actions and comments to heart. It’s not me, it’s her. And she can’t help it.

In fact, it’s helped my relationships with everyone. It’s not just my mom who can’t help it. We all can’t help it.  I find it much easier to be patient with people’s quirks, including my own.

I’m also more bold about withdrawing from those whose traits I find damaging. My no-go is people who back-stab, bully, yell and swear at others. No matter what wonderful qualities a friend or family member might also possess, hostile behavior is a relationship deal-killer. Bottom line: while I may love that person, I also love myself.

So I draw my boundaries. Explain them. Give multiple chances. If the objectionable behaviors continue, I withdraw. I understand that they can’t help themselves. I hope they understand that I can’t help myself, either. There are some things I just can’t tolerate. Call me quirky.

While bubbling, fermenting relationships might be bad, fermented drinks are good. (Smoothest segue you’ve ever seen, right?) I promised you recipes. Here are links:

KombuchaHow to Make Kombucha, by Katie of Wellness Mama. Try a beer brewing supply store for the SCOBY. That’s where I found my starter. Then prepare to share yours. That mother grows BIG!  Recerntly, I started a continuous brewing system. The how-to is here: Cultures for Health

Probiotic Lemonade:  Fresh, Natural, Healthy Lemonade, by Kristen of Food Renegade. Note: Because I don’t have a cup of whey on top of my yogurt, I just add some of the runny yogurt. It seems to work fine)

PS: Psychology Today recently had a great article about identifying and dealing with those who are difficult. You can read it here: The High Art of Handling Problem People.

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